Sunday, April 11, 2010

Open Letter to an Author

March 25, 2010
Dear Amy Bloom,
Instead of working on revisions, I am writing you. I think you’d support me in this because last Thursday night when I asked about your writing life (just after the first guy asked about your use of four letter words) you said you start your day managing business correspondence, then, if so inclined, speak to your best friend, sister, children. You didn’t use that expression-- so inclined, but I imagine for the most part, you only speak to people if you’re compelled. And I mean this as a compliment.
My kids are young so I pretty much have to speak to them even if I’d rather not. Until I had children, I didn’t know how much alone time I needed. Some people confuse this sort of admission with maternal ambivalence. Isn’t that an awful expression? I think so.
When you mentioned your sister, I momentarily wondered what it would take to get to a better place with my sister; but then I pushed that out of my mind, because really, I wanted to listen to every morsel you had to say. Anyway, before I settle in today to make art, or fail to make art, or fail better to make art—I am writing you.
I was moved by your reading and inspired by your question and answer.
But first-the reading. I had already read The Old Impossible, in fact, I’m only half way through Where the God of Love Hangs Out, and declare this your best. Don’t get me wrong, I loved, Come to Me, Love Invents Us, Away, (haven’t read Normal- don’t know how I missed it. I will.) But William and Claire’s love affair is one of the most moving I’ve ever read. (If I have time, I hope to perfect that sentence. It serves my point, but is so mundane, you might miss it.)
As I listened to you, one thought I had was … I must slow down when I read. I am so anxious to find out what happens next, that some of your majesty gets lost. And by lost, I mean not fully appreciated, because I believe I ‘get’ every sentiment I’m meant to. (I know why your characters use four letter words.)
But more than my reading The Old Impossible quickly, I think I was so moved listening to you because I knew the ending. Perhaps this is an obvious law of literary fiction; if so, I never learned it. For example, hearing William say he’s not going to operate heavy machinery has quite a different meaning once I knew how they’d settle in to their loving, albeit Percocet induced, sleep. I get that. I get how necessary it is to minimize consequences when we’re lying to ourselves. Or maybe that’s just me.
While reading about the nuanced, imperfect Claire and William, I loved finding the clues as to what had happened since the last story. Because I knew how things resolved for them, (or her) listening to you was all the more emotional. If not for the fluorescent lights, I might have wept. I try never to weep under florescent lights. And also your fans; I prefer to weep alone, which is more diagnostic than I care to reveal. I mean, we barely know each other.
Now onto the question and answer part of your reading. To borrow from our shared clinical social work training, the Q and A was valuable in both process and content. When you didn’t say to the first gentleman questioner, clearly Sir, to ask such a thing tells me you have no (fucking) idea where I’m coming from, leads me to believe that I have some work to do before I attempt a public reading. Perhaps some publicity training would serve me well. And Welbutrin. (Forgive me. At times my boundaries are askew.)
I’ve recently attended four readings and have found there’s always at least one doozie of a question. When Sarah Blake read from The Postmistress, which takes place in 1940, one poor bastard asked what were the causes of World War II. Okay, in his defense, he was all of ten years old, but still. You know what happened? The audience laughed an oh-to-be-so-young laugh, and then all eyes landed on Ms. Blake and waited for her answer. Which she did well, by the way. Way better than I could’ve. Then again, my book is about an Upper East Side woman’s quest for her artist self, not the Blitz. And as toxic as the UES is; it’s not that.
When my debut novel comes out in 2011, I hope to read just as you did. Poised. Strong. Clear. When you finished reading, you didn’t try to save the audience from our silence as we garnered the courage to raise our hands. Okay, I’ll give the four letter word guy that; he went first. I waited, even though I’d known for a week what I wanted to ask: what did you require (and at what age) to take your writing seriously and what is your daily writing ritual.
Thank you for your answer.
I didn’t stay for the signing. To be honest, I don’t really get signings. I own all of your books, (except your essays, which I’ll remedy) however, for me, having your signature isn’t going to make them more valuable than they already are. Also, my son had called. Twice. He was having trouble completing his History homework (New York’s role during the Revolutionary War). Translation: it was time to go home. Which was mostly okay, because, as you can see, I had more to convey than a quick hello. Not to mention, I tend to get tongue tied when I speak; another notch for the get publicity training column.
Besides this wonderful delaying tactic, there is a purpose to my writing you; I wanted you to know that you are mentioned in my book. Two women- only one successful, are discussing what it takes to make art. A room and money have been noted. So has a Nanny. They will discuss the importance of possessing a willingness to fail as well as the impact of a satisfying affair.
And you come up.
She took a long slow sip of coffee. “And you know what else?” she asked, as if I wasn’t hanging on to every word.
“I read an interview with Amy Bloom. She started writing in her late thirties. She said that if she didn’t take her writing seriously, no one would. This completely inspired me. I started my novel that night.”
“Really?” It almost sounded too easy.
“You’d be amazed what can happen when you have a role model,” she said. “What about you? What do you need?”

Wish me luck Amy Bloom. More importantly, keep making art. And thank you. A deep down, hearty and earnest thank you. Because, at the risk of being redundant, you’d be amazed what can happen when you have a role model.
Rebecca Land Soodak

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